Bulgaria has violated journalist Rosen Bosev’s rights to freedom of expression and fair trial by allowing his conviction of defamation in a private criminal case brought by Stoyan Mavrodiev, former senior government official. The ruling, which is landmark for the Bulgarian media environment, was announced by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on June 4. 

Rosen Bosev, in his capacity as a journalist, filed a complaint against Bulgaria in Strasbourg because of doubts about the impartiality of Judge Petya Kruncheva in her ruling on the charges against him. Judge Kruncheva refused to withdraw herself from Bosev’s case, despite the fact that the journalist had formerly published critical reporting on her professional work and ethics. 

Judge Kruncheva’s 2017 decision, upheld by the Sofia City Court in 2019, sparked international outrage as an example of the practice of officials in Bulgaria using institutions to punish critical journalists. It was a part of a series of demonstrations of administrative and judicial pressure by Stoyan Mavrodiev, former head of the Financial Supervision Commission (FSC),  against local journalists and media outlets.

In this regard, the ECHR found that Bulgaria had violated Rosen Bosev’s right to a fair trial under Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as well as his freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Convention.

Rosen Bosev is represented by Attorney Alexander Kashumov and Attorney Stoyan Madin in the proceedings before the ECtHR. The court awarded the journalist compensation of 511 euros to cover the fine he was sentenced to by Stoyan Mavrodiev, as well as another 3,000 euros for moral damages. Bulgaria is also ordered to cover his legal expenses. 

Comment by Attorney Kashumov

“The ruling is very important for Bulgaria because, first of all, it confirms we have a  problem with the so-called SLAPP cases against journalists who exercise their freedom of speech in the public interest and are left without the necessary level of judicial protection in such cases. The second part of the judgment is also interesting because it relates to Rossen [Bossev] being denied a fair trial.

Very rarely does the Strasbourg Court, in any case, from any country, find a violation of both rights – the right to free expression and the right to a fair trial. Here, I think it is deliberately highlighted that there is a violation of the right to a fair trial, which includes the right to be tried by an impartial judge.

The Strasbourg Court thus brings together two major problems of Bulgarian society – the protection of freedom of expression and the state of the judiciary”. 

According to Kashumov, although Bossev was convicted in 2017 and 2019 respectively, and the case for which he was convicted dates back from 2013, the ECHR has taken into account in its decision “a much larger and comprehensive context”, as until recently there has been an exchange of views with the Bulgarian state.